Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
There are so many reasons I love Image Comic’s Dancer. I’m a sucker for international thrillers with spies and hitmen (throw in a little sci-fi action and we’re golden), I always wished I could be a ballerina despite my complete lack of coordination, and Nic Klein’s art is incredibly breath-taking and both inspires me as an artist and makes me feel incredibly inept (which is the highest compliment I can pay). So needless to say, I was hooked from the first page, but I honestly wasn’t entirely sure why. The story wasn’t exactly groundbreaking in originality, and the character types were all pretty familiar and straightforward. The script was thrilling, so maybe that was it?
Then I started thinking about Dancer in terms of its identity politics and what it’s actually saying about who we are, who we want to be, and more importantly, who we can be or become under the right circumstances. As The Fox says, “It’s time to stop thinking that you are what you are not, Alan.” As much as it’s about escaping near-certain death, it is about Alan’s struggle with his own identity as a hitman, facing down his own barbarism, brutality, strength, and tenacity…in the form of his clone. His younger self is a pitch-perfect stereotype of the hitman character: he’s strong, relentless, intelligent, and always seems to have the upper hand. The hitman/spy is a pretty standard trope of masculinity, where masculinity has typically been figured in terms of embodied violence and strength. It is monstrous and brutal, a technology of murder that is cold and calculated.
What Dancer manages to do is take two typically gendered binary constructs – ballet and being a gun for hire – and parallels them to reveal the performativity lurking behind said stereotypes.
It takes a certain kind of character to make a violent, bloodthirsty superhero likable. It certainly isn’t an easy task. There are plenty of superheroes with “codes”, rules which prohibit them from killing and so forth, these are more enjoyably relatable, we all want to think that, even when pushed to the edge of endurance, we would maintain a certain moral code. It is much harder though, to create an empathic, emotionally attractive character who is totally merciless. Continue Reading »
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